Flu outbreak kills 24 as HSE warns virus won't die out for five weeks
Flu has claimed the lives of 24 patients this winter, with the HSE warning that the killer virus will circulate for another five weeks.
The latest outbreak has gripped around 18 public and private nursing homes, forcing them to ban new admissions of elderly patients who are ready to leave overcrowded hospitals.
Fatalities have hit all generations, but older people appear to again be bearing the brunt.
The HSE said the outbreak may have already peaked, but warned it would continue to circulate and pose a risk for around another five weeks.
It has led to 1,019 patients being admitted to hospital this winter and caused some 52 critically ill patients to be placed in intensive care.
HSE public health director Dr Kevin Kelleher said the middle-aged and elderly were now worst affected by the illness.
"We don't appear to have seen a peak in children in the last week," he said.
Some 29 cases of the virus being passed from one person to another were reported last week, striking hospitals and nursing homes in particular.
This season is the fifth worst in 17 years for the number of people who have been affected.
However, Dr Cillian de Gascun, of the Virus Reference Laboratory, said that while the number of patients with flu was high, the death rate from the virus so far indicated it was not as severe as in many other winters.
While 24 people have directly died from the flu so far, the virus is likely to have contributed to the deaths of another 300 who were weakened and died from other conditions such as heart disease.
The numbers of patients attending GPs for flu-like symptoms rose slightly last week.
St Vincent's Hospital had to cope with 100 patients who had flu.
HSE head of emergency planning Damian McCallion said the number of patients who no longer needed to be in hospital but required support before being discharged home, or were waiting for a suitable nursing home place had been reduced to 470 to free up beds.
However, several hospitals are hampered by a lack of beds in flu-hit nursing homes or the closure of homes locally.
The need to isolate patients with flu means that two patients may be occupying a four-bed ward.
"We have loosened the rules around the Fair Deal scheme," Dr McCallion said, adding that it would allow more older patients to go to nursing homes with others placed in transitional care beds.
There were 547 patients on trolleys yesterday, including 13 children, according to the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation.
Dr Ciara Martin, a paediatric emergency consultant at Tallaght Hospital, said placing some children on trolleys for reasons such as infection control at this time of the year was not unusual.
She said they usually had to wait no more than nine hours for a bed.
"At this time we always have children in emergency departments for a variety of reasons," she said.
"We need a quick turnaround and isolation rooms are not always available."